Recently, the Trump Administrations suspended the approval of green card requests to immigrants abroad seeking residency in the United States. Last week, this administration temporarily halted the process of requests from green card applicants already living in the country. The agency argues that this hold on processing green card applications is due to the suspension of in-person services caused by precautions taken during the coronavirus pandemic. Its current priority, USCIS claims, is to resume naturalization ceremonies.   

A senior USCIS officer told CQ Roll Call that some field adjudicators stopped processing green card applications from noncitizens residing in the U.S. back in April. While there may still be a larger hold on I-845 adjustment of status cases, there remain certain exemptions that have been released through internal communication within the USCIS network. Such exemptions that allow for cases to continue include

1) Case already distributed to adjudicator (for instance, if your interview was rescheduled due to COVID)

2) Continuations

3) Case related to a medical provider 

4) National Benefits Center work on adjustments 

5) Older, pending cases 

6) Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) I-485s

7) Identified national security concerns  

8) Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate cases 

9) ELIS beta cases 
10) Age outs

11) DV cases 

12) Mandamus and other litigation cases

13) Detailed immigrants 

14) Military families

The USCIS also will allow immigration officers to submit applications that concern an “emergent or sensitive matter” outside these exemptions to their supervisors for consideration. 

While most federal agencies receive funding from Congress, USCIS receives most of its funding from immigration application fees. Since March, when USCIS temporarily suspended in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, echoed by an overall decrease of human movement because of restricted international travel, USCIS has received an extremely low volume of immigration petitions and fees.   

As USCIS has experienced falling petition rates over the last two years, increased funding has been dedicated to vetting and enforcement by the Trump Administration. This shift reflects the administration’s immigration goals, which definitely have an unsustainable impact on USCIS’ finances. As the processing of green cards is being halted, we can predict that such restricted immigration will further constrain USCIS’ financial sustainability. While USCIS had a $790 million cash carryover at the end of fiscal 2017, it now faces a $1.5 billion deficit. 

End-of-Year Immigration Examinations Fee Account Carryover Balances, FY 2008-20

Source: Migration Policy Institute

Recently, USCIS urged Congress to provide $1.2 billion to address its severe budget shortfall. It is very likely that without this emergency infusion, USCIS will have to furlough up to 15,000 of its 18,700 employees. Such a measure will likely further slow down visa and green card processing in the near future. The agency claims that it will be able to pay back this requested $1.2 billion by imposing a 10 percent surcharge to USCIS application fees. This is important to note, because such a surcharge may act as a deterrent to future immigrants. 

Last November, USCIS proposed fee increases; for instance, this includes an 83 percent increase in naturalization application fees from $640 to $1,170. As immigration continues to be restricted through expanding proclamations, such proposed fee increases are likely to occur in order for USCIS to continue running. Retroactively, this would likely decrease the types of foreign nationals who are capable of affording this steep increase.